The Competitive Way of Life

From Krishnamurti’s Book COMMENTARIES ON LIVING 2

The monkeys were on the road, and in the middle of the road a baby monkey was playing with its tail, but the mother was keeping an eye on it. They were all well aware that someone was there, at a safe distance. The adult males were large, heavy and rather vicious, and most of the other monkeys avoided them. They were all eating some kind of berries that had fallen on the road from a large, shady tree with thick leaves. The recent rains had filled the river, and the stream under the narrow bridge was gurgling. The monkeys avoided the water and the puddles on the road, and when a car appeared splattering mud as it came, they were off the road in a second, the mother taking the baby with her. Some climbed the tree and others went down the bank on each side of the road, but they were back on it as soon as the car had sped by. They had now got quite used to the human presence. They were as restless as the human mind, and up to all kinds of tricks.

The rice fields on either side of the road were a luscious, sparkling green in the warm sun, and against the blue hills beyond the fields the ricebirds were white and slow-winged. A long, brownish snake had crawled out of the water and was resting in the sun. A brilliantly blue kingfisher had alighted on the bridge and was readying itself for another dive. It was a lovely morning, not too hot, and the solitary palms scattered over the fields told of many things. Between the green fields and the blue hills there was communion, a song. Time seemed to pass so quickly. In the blue sky the kites were wheeling; occasionally they would alight on a branch to preen themselves, and then off they would go again, calling and circling. There were also several eagles, with white necks and golden-brown wings and bodies. Among the newly-sprouted grass there were large red ants; they would race jerkily forward, suddenly stop, and then go off in the opposite direction. Life was so rich, so abundant – and unnoticed, which was perhaps what all these living things, big and little, wanted.

A young ox with bells around its neck was drawing a light cart which was delicately made, its two large wheels connected by a thin steel bar on which a wooden platform was mounted. On this platform a man was sitting, proud of the fast-trotting ox and the turnout. The ox, sturdy and yet slender, gave him importance; everyone would look at him now, as the passing villagers did. They stopped, looked with admiring eyes, made comments, and passed on. How proud and erect the man sat, looking straight ahead! Pride, whether in little things or in great achievements, is essentially the same. What one does and what one has gives one importance and prestige; but man in himself as a total being seems to have hardly any significance at all.

He came with two of his friends. Each of them had a good college degree, and they were doing well, they said, in their various professions. They were all married and had children, and they seemed pleased with life, yet they were disturbed too. “If I may,” he said, “I would like to ask a question to set the ball rolling. It is not an idle question, and it has somewhat disturbed me since hearing you a few evenings ago. Among other things you said that competition and ambition were destructive urges which man must understand and so be free of, if he is to live in a peaceful society. But are not struggle and conflict part of the very nature of existence?”

Society as at present constituted is based on ambition and conflict, and almost everyone accepts this fact as inevitable. The individual is conditioned to its inevitability; through education, through various forms of outward and inward compulsion, he is made to be competitive. If he is to fit into this society at all, he must accept the conditions it lays down, otherwise he has a pretty bad time. We seem to think that we have to fit into this society; but why should one?

“If we don’t, we will just go under.”

I wonder if that would happen if we saw the whole significance of the problem? We might not live according to the usual pattern, but we would live creatively and happily, with a wholly different out look. Such a state cannot be brought about if we accept the present social pattern as inevitable. But to get back to your point: do ambition, competition and conflict constitute a predestined and inevitable way of life? You evidently assume that they do. Now let us begin from there. Why do you take this competitive way of life to be the only process of existence?

“I am competitive, ambitious, like all those around me. It is a fact which often gives me pleasure, and sometimes pain, but I just accept it without struggle, because I don’t know any other way of living; and even if I did, I suppose I would be afraid to try it. I have many responsibilities, and I would be gravely concerned about the future of my children if I broke away from the usual thoughts and habits of life.”

You may be responsible for others, sir, but have you not also the responsibility to bring about a peaceful world? There can be no peace, no enduring happiness for man as long as we – the individual, the group and the nation – accept this competitive existence as inevitable. Competitiveness, ambition, implies conflict within and without, does it not? An ambitious man is not a peaceful man, though he may talk of peace and brotherhood. The politician can never bring peace to the world, nor can those who belong to any organized belief, for they all have been conditioned to a world of leaders, saviours, guides and examples; and when you follow another you are seeking the fulfilment of your own ambition, whether in this world or in the world of ideation, the so-called spiritual world. Competitiveness, ambition implies conflict, does it not?

“I see that, but what is one to do? Being caught in this net of competition, how is one to get out of it? And even if one does get out of it, what assurance is there that there will be peace between man and man? Unless all of us see the truth of the matter at the same time, the perception of that truth by one or two will have no value whatever.”

You want to know how to get out of this net of conflict, fulfilment, frustration. The very question ‘how?’ implies that you want to be assured that your endeavour will not be in vain. You still want to succeed, only at a different level. You do not see that all ambition, all desire for success in any direction, creates conflict both within and without. The ‘how?’ is the way of ambition and conflict, and that very question prevents you from seeing the truth of the problem. The ‘how?’ is the ladder to further success. But we are not now thinking in terms of success or failure, rather in terms of the elimination of conflict; and does it follow that without conflict, stagnation is inevitable? Surely, peace comes into being, not through safeguards, sanctions and guarantees, but it is there when you are not – you who are the agent of conflict with your ambitions and frustrations.

Your other point, sir, that all must see the truth of this problem at the same time, is an obvious impossibility. But it is possible for you to see it; and when you do, that truth which you have seen and which brings freedom, will affect others. It must begin with you, for you are the world, as the other is.

Ambition breeds mediocrity of mind and heart; ambition is superficial, for it is everlastingly seeking a result. The man who wants to be a saint, or a successful politician, or a big executive, is concerned with personal achievement. Whether identified with an idea, a nation, or a system, religious or economic, the urge to be successful strengthens the ego, the self, whose very structure is brittle, superficial and limited. All this is fairly obvious if one looks into it, is it not?

“It may be obvious to you, sir, but to most of us conflict gives a sense of existence, the feeling that we are alive. Without ambition and competition, our lives would be drab and useless.”

Since you are maintaining this competitive way of life, your children and your children’s children will bread further antagonism, envy and war; neither you nor they will have peace. Having been conditioned to this traditional pattern of existence, you are in turn educating your children to accept it; so the world goes on in this sorrowful way. “We want to change, but…” He was aware of his own futility and stopped talking.